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5 Perfectly Awful Ways to Motivate an ADHD Brain

Many adults with ADHD have to hijack the emotional part of the brain to get started, especially on a task they find tedious, uninteresting, or routine.

9 Comments: 5 Perfectly Awful Ways to Motivate an ADHD Brain

  1. Procrastination definitely did not help me get anything done. When it got to the point that the anxiety was overwhelming, I would shut down completely,and the only type of “tasks” that would boost my dompamine enough were things like watching TV and eating junk food. Has anybody else had this experience? It doesn’t happen to me anymore now that I take ADD medication, but it was very common before I was diagnosed.

  2. Okay, here’s a more positive one: bargaining. I use a Pomodoro timer for work. It’s a great bargaining tool.

    “I feel awful today. I don’t want to work.” – We can do just one Pomodoro if nothing else, right? (I have to feel REALLY horrific for it to end up being just one Pomodoro, btw.)
    “I don’t feel like doing X.” – We can do X for one Pomodoro and then switch to something else. Hey… variety!
    “My brain really wants to focus on doing or reading [insert fun thing here] instead.” – Sure. When the Pomodoros are up, we’ll spend the breaks doing or reading [insert fun thing here] before we get back to work.

    Pomodoros are also good for breaking hyperfocus, improving your time sense, and planning and estimating work. If I want to estimate time on a task, I can look back at a similar task and how many Pomodoros it took to complete. There’s also still a lot of “OMG! I got that long, tedious task I knew would take all day done in ONE Pomodoro! Holy crap!”

  3. Dear all commenters,
    I’m sorry that this website leaves many of use hopeless.
    What if I tried to answer all of this with empathy and without my usual sarcasm?
    Yes I’ve been diagnosed.

    This article sounds hopeless and your life is not hopeless! Your PFC might not be useless. But old narratives about ADHD like this one might keep you stuck thinking that.

    My PFC is not the worst, and is not always inaccurate, and does a lot more than I (or this website apparently) gives it credit for.
    It doesn’t fail, it thinks even more forethought for me than I expected. It tells me where my keys usually are, it tells me I must leave now, AND it tells me that the weather report is different now than it was last night, so I better have my extra sweater today, and the toe warmers. Great, the toe warmers are in my purse. The sweater is where it should be too – in the dryer. (It just takes forever to run through the house, keeping up with life, keeping up with coworkers unphased by the morning forecast. Even after laying out my clothes and lunchbox the night before.) Then after I have everything, my PFC says “you are now 2 minutes late. Update boss of New ETA.” In fact, everything I need to know not to upset my boss and be fully functional is there and PFC is doing a damn interesting job at being flexible. Life requires this understanding. You’re doing better than you give yourself credit for.
    (Should I wake up half an hour earlier? I do. I try. Life STILL happens.)

    There are alternatives, dear reader. Brace yourself for the part you hate: mindfulness.
    WAIT before you roll your eyes, let me finish.
    If you are using these motivational tactics, you have built up YEARS of a certain type of narrative that may not lift with just actions. I’d love for that to work but… when you realize you do these things, you need to be aware when you do this self-talk. It’s how you catch those negative thoughts and replace them with logical ones. I’m sorry! Mindfulness is difficult and boring for us! You HAVE to learn to catch yourself.

    Now with mindfulness you can ask yourself what the emotion is and what it’s motivating you to do. Then focus on what the next steps of get-r-done are for the situation.

    Anxiety: “I’m anxious. What am I forgetting?” Can’t think of it, didn’t write it down? Finish a different pressing task and allow it to resurface. Going to the room in which you remembered it can help resurface. In memory science, walking into a different room is crossing an “event boundary”. Go back to the scene.

    Avoidance: “This feels so insurmountable that I wanna run away. I have to face this OH DEAR.” Emotions have made it to distress. We need distress tolerance skills. Stop. Take a minute. Breathe. There is something called paired muscle contractions. Flex your fingers, hands, arms, elbow, shoulders, while inhaling and thinking “I’ve done hards things before,” hold the breath and contraction for 2-3 seconds, and slowly release your shoulders, elbows, arms, hands, fingers while slowly exhaling thinking “so I can get through this.” This is how to pair a positive affirmation with the relaxing feeling of release.
    Repeat this (with any pep-talk sentence you need) to calm down. Keep the sentence simple so your subconscious can internalize it.
    Now utilize a pomodoro session (25 minutes) to set up your workspace if you’re still inclined to go paint the bathroom instead. Get everything you need, mis en place. Breathe. You can do this. The timer will ding. You now give yourself 5 minutes to breathe, feel present, and let your mind feel rewarded for attempting goals. Your next pomodoro can be real work. Repeat this pomodoro cycle (25-5-25-5)to get work done until you enter hyperfocus flow state, after which you will not need the timer.

    Procrastination: is like dodging a bullet? Really? Then dodge a different bullet. Your penalty can be to pay for it – with money. There are apps and website that let you pay your friends for not making good on a goal/deadline. Or ask a good friend You know in person! Make it sting. How much stings? $25? $400? something you can’t hide from.
    You’re allowed to hack your brain. If you can’t control the monkey mind, make it work for you.

    Anger: is a response to a perceived threat, and quite often is self righteous. Ask yourself what’s the threat? (Is it really threatening or just annoying? Will not mitigating it harm a loved one?) Ask yourself what exactly is inconveniencing you. How can you remedy this? Get some steps going for it, you’ll feel better for having started at all. For the record though, angry IS actually an emotion that allows you to protect yourself and the ones you love, so if they are actually in harm’s way, quit guilt tripping yourself for saving them.
    Since we are known to have anger issues, train yourself to ask yourself what’s the threat every time you feel that pop up. Once you can label it, you can feel confident tackling it. And I know you can tackle it or you wouldn’t have gotten riled up.

    Self-loathing: the article was right. This will mostly give you more fuel for anxiety and anger down the line. It’s misleading. It causes you to destroy yourself and sabotage future opportunities you think you don’t deserve. Your going to have to let this one go. Easier said than done. I feel ya. Researchers Firestone and Firestone developed some methodology on deducing and rewriting the negative narrative that can lead to insecurity and self hatred. Feels like a longish process, but maybe worth it.

    I told you every one of these tactics requires mindfulness. I know its hard, but what the article doesn’t say is we’re going to need mindfulness to get to and through ANY of this. Scoff if you need, but I can’t be a pinball stuck in the machine of my mind any longer.

    Also, you will try these tactics and sometimes life won’t work out perfectly. Please accept that life is screwy like that, stop yelling at yourself, and forgive yourself.

    THIS is my response to all of that.

    Sources: YEARS of dialectical behavioral therapy

    For the record, our idea of how this plays out neurologically may not actually be as simple as the limbic system picking up the PFC’s slack. I see the correlation, but just watch what you believe. Don’t limit yourself. Reading the defeatist articles on this website make me want to crawl away. I KNOW I’ve achieved so much more than this old story will ever make it sound.

  4. I agree with RagingADHD, for some reason I was under the impression that with each “emotional trick”, there would be a healthier alternative to use in its place. I was glad to see a piece that did address all of these methods together because it’s never just one. Recognizing them is good, but then what?

  5. I second Raging and Kharmin’s questions. Even in the set up of the article, the self loathing “unhealthy” strategies are fairly rational responses to our brains and the world we have to use them in. When the author writes
    “She knelt and looked at him, saying, “We don’t do that in this house.” Her son replied, “OK, then, I’ll go outside.” His response shows that motivating ourselves with self-loathing can become a habit.”, she misinterprets the boy. To me, he wouldn’t dismiss his mom because self-loathing is a habit, but because he doesn’t see an alternative. Look, there’s value to being more emotionally healthy, and having less self-loathing, but there are other priorities.

  6. Agreed, @RagingADHD! Possible solutions in the article would be much appreciated!
    It sounds like all-in-all, you’re making good changes.

  7. This is a spot-on description of what I already knew. But what’s missing is how to replace these negative motivators with positive ones that actually work.

    I was so relieved when I got diagnosed, because it released me from years of blame and shame. I embrace and like myself much better!

    But I am not managing my time or my responsibilities much better. The medication helps me with anxiety and allows me to get work done that I like (instead of spacing out).

    But I still don’t get the bathroom cleaned until I’m embarrassed, or the checkbook balanced unless I’m in a panic.

    My health can’t take the stress of the panic-shame-anger cycle anymore. And these things must be done to have any quality of life. I can’t just blithely ignore them – that’s just a setup for more panic & shame.

    But what’s the alternative, when the logical PFC and the abstract vision of a distant future goal are useless?

  8. I was hoping to see what others think of this article?? I have a Son and his son who were born with this type of brain. Son is 30, grandson 13. also I grew up with my oldest Brother who back then it was not called ADHD, our Doctors in the 60’s called my brother and all like him…PARTIAL BRAIN DAMAGE!! My poor brother suffered at School, by being severely paddled with wood paddle with holes drilled in it for maximum pain!!! Then teacher would call our Dad. So when my Brother got home that day, he would be greeted with Dad and his Belt. To suffer another beating! How traumatizing for us kids, and all cuz his brain works different. This Trauma he and I still suffer. He is 65 now, and we no longer speak, but not cuz I have not tried. Has been 4 yrs. But he is so Abusive to me….I wont try anymore. I have to save my self now. Enough!! I can’t deal with him, not when I have my Son and Grandson to deal with!! Never easy, not for a minute.

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